Car Dealer Live

Car Dealer Live 2: Sentience Automotive Solutions’ Ali May-Khalil, Paul Avison and Melanie Hayward

Time 6:39 pm, March 25, 2020

Experts from consultancy Sentience Automotive Solutions gave plenty of top advice in today’s (Mar 26) Car Dealer Q&A live on YouTube.

In the Live broadcast we discussed topics including:

  • How can dealers keep their staff engaged during the crisis?
  • How can garages keep going during the crisis?
  • Which staff can go into work?
  • Can staff who have been furloughed still help the business?

Sentience helps dealerships improve in all sorts of fields – but it’s also adept at handling crises, and Car Dealer Magazine founder James Baggott was joined by the consultancy’s founder and managing director Ali May-Khalil, principal consultant Paul Avison and automotive consultant Melanie Hayward.

May-Khalil said that, unsurprisingly, it was currently very busy with clients who had lots of questions to ask all centred around what the coronavirus pandemic meant for them and what could they do about it?

Baggott kicked things off with the topic of furloughing, whereby staff members are put on unpaid leave of absence because of the lack of work. He said he himself had had to carry out the process this morning, and described it as ‘the most painful thing that I’ve ever done in business’, with dealerships up and down the country in a similar position.

He wondered if furloughed employees could still be engaged in the business but the answer from May-Khalil was an emphatic no, stressing that employers had to get the process right, either via their HR department or by using legal advisers.

The government is stepping in to pay up to 80 per cent of furloughed employees’ salaries, up to £2,500 per month, with the called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but the company has to apply for this money as a grant from HMRC. May-Khalil added that employers were still liable for furloughed employees’ national insurance contributions to keep them on the payroll.

Keeping those who had been furloughed in the loop was a grey area, he said, but as long as it was personal and informal, such as via a phone call, and not using company channels of communication, employers should be OK. WhatsApp groups, for example, could be useful as morale-boosters.

With the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme still being set up, Business Interruption Loans were also highlighted as a way of helping cashflow. Were they worth looking into, asked Baggott. ‘Absolutely, if it’s the difference between staying alive or dying,’ said May-Khalil, but he warned that the banks weren’t being very generous with the rates of interest, and there was also the thorny issue of personal guarantees being demanded by some of the big hitters.

Just how long the situation will last is anyone’s guess, with none of us really having a clue, said Hayward. Avison added that dealers were trying to focus on what they can do to retain a sense of normality with customers.

As for how dealers can continue to operate in this new world, Avison said it started with keeping in touch with customers and trying to develop the sense of normality, which can help with retention.

The potential of online retail was also discussed, with May-Khalil saying the pandemic ‘could just force dealers to get fitter’, to which Hayward added: ‘How adaptive is your business? Everybody is going to be asking themselves that question now – “How have we been able to adapt to this situation?” and dealers will vary in their response.’ She added that the coronavirus crisis had probably acted as ‘a wake-up call’ for some dealers.

Returning to the topic of furloughing, Hayward also highlighted the difficulties furloughed staff would have still being able to engage when they came back to work, with Avison stressing the importance of staying ‘match-fit’ – something that would be vital to cope with the pent-up demand there would undoubtedly be when things get back to normal.

More: Watch all Car Dealer Live broadcasts here

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James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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